top of page

An Everyday Social Work Approach

A basic approach social workers can use with many clients covering person-centred practice, interview techniques, practice models, child aware practice and setting boundaries.

This page has three sections:

  1. Background Material that provides the context for the topic

  2. A suggested Practice Approach

  3. A list of Supporting Material / References

Feedback welcome!

Background Material

Person-centred practice is central: shared decision making with an emphasis on empowering people and assisting them with self-determination. The person’s preferences and goals are important and form the basis of discussion.

It is important to gather information in order to complete relevant aspects of a biopsychosocial-spiritual assessment.

Interview Approach

1. Welcome

Simple social interchanges (e.g. comments or questions related to transport, parking, and the weather) and shaking hands (when appropriate) will assist in making the client feel welcome. This stage should provide answers to: (i) What is this going to be all about? (ii) What kind of worker is this going to be?

2. Establish a relationship: Clarify the purpose for meeting, the limits of confidentiality, what will happen with what we discuss, and how long we will talk for (e.g. evaluate after 45 minutes).

  • Engaging with interest and warmth

  • Offering acceptance and empathic understanding

  • Demonstrating a respect for the client’s individuality

  • Being genuine and authentic

  • Be aware the potential power differential between me and the person.

3. Attend (SOLAR)

S Face clients squarely, indicating availability and interest in client

Adopt an open posture

Lean towards the client

E Maintain appropriate eye contact

R Remain relatively relaxed

4. Open questions: What, why, how and could / could you

5. Prompt, and offer encouragers: Nods, gestures, ‘I see’, ‘uh-huh’

6. Reflect feelings (empathy): It appears that … / sounds like … / looks like …; you seem to feel …; I get the impression that …/

7. Paraphrase

8. Normalise

9. Summarise

10. Use silence

11. End the interview: consider content covered, goals for next interview.

Preferred Practice Models

Practice Approach

Be aware of Professional Boundaries

Professional relationship boundaries can be placed on a continuum from ‘entangled’ to ‘rigid’. The mid-range of the continuum represents ‘balanced’ professional relationship boundaries.

Occasionally workers will breach professional boundaries for good reason, i.e. do something that is not in accord with an accepted standard of behaviour such as give a client a personal phone number when no other resources are available. But these decisions should make sense to other professionals in the circumstance.

Establish a working relationship – with empathy

  • Introduce the environment: e.g. too hot, window open

  • Tea, coffee, water?

  • General questions to the person, e.g. weather conditions, finding the place, travel time, parking

  • Introduce myself: working life, social work qualifications, experience with people, life orientation to helping people to navigate issues in life

  • Confidentiality (AASW member so do not share what we talk about with others unless you give consent)

Explore the issue

  • Explore the reason for coming, e.g. what is the issue, when did it start, how have your responded, how has it affected you?

  • Conduct BPPS assessment, especially around support (family, friends, medical, peer-to-peer, education), stressors, client’s strengths and protective factors

  • Check Maslow’s Hierarchy

  • Identify the problems so both client and I agree on this (single sentences).

Examine possibilities and solutions

  • Use miracle question – What would it look like if things were just the way you wanted them to be? Identify goals that are specific, concrete and achievable in a reasonable time frame (i.e. SMART goals). Frame them in positive language.

  • Scale these goals on a scale of 1 – 10, i.e. where things are now and where they would be if successfully achieved.

  • Brainstorm tasks (What has worked before? What are your strengths that may help achieve the goals?)

  • Consider pros and cons of various strategies for achieving goals. Consider obstacles to completion and how the client’s strengths can help manage these.

  • Decide on a course of action and specify the responsibilities of worker and client with time lines (role playing may be appropriate)

Undertaking work together to resolve or address the problem or issue

Carry out the plan and evaluate, alter, (i.e. adjust approach) and then move to another issue if necessary

Be conscious of Child Aware Practice

Parents with mental health, addiction, homelessness and family violence issues can cause major difficulties for children. These can have life-long consequences, e.g. suicide, eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, high-risk sexual behaviour, violence and criminal offending, homelessness and abuse and neglect of one’s own children. Therefore, it is important that those supporting adults also assess the impact of adults’ issues on children and take steps to support adults in their parenting role. This is what Child Aware Practice is about. You will find this topic covered in more detail on the website at

Finishing the work together, often with a review

Discuss progress to goals and finishing the relationship regularly during the process

At the end of the process summarise client achievements, skills, positives and areas to be aware of. Discuss managing future problems that may arise.

Supporting Material

(available on request)

Generalist Social Work (Pearson Education)

bottom of page